Planned Parenthood launches mobile abortion clinic to provide access for Missourians

Jeff Roberson/AP

Planned Parenthood will soon open a mobile abortion clinic in southern Illinois to provide greater access to abortion for Missourians after the state outlawed the procedure in nearly all cases in June.

The mobile clinic will be able to travel along the border with Missouri and will be part of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. The clinic will provide medication abortions, and eventually procedural abortions, and is expected to launch by the end of the year, the organization announced Monday.

The 37-foot mobile abortion clinic will help curtail “distances, wait times and other logistical barriers profoundly impacting patients in neighboring states where abortion is now banned since Roe fell 100 days ago,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Missouri enacted its trigger ban minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The mobile clinic will be Planned Parenthood’s first in the nation designed to provide access residents in a state that saw abortion banned in the wake of the court’s decision.

Planned Parenthood has reported increased demand in both Kansas and Illinois since Missouri’s trigger ban took effect, but so far no mobile clinic has been announced along the state’s border with Kansas.

The organization announced Monday that it will also be taking over the former Tri-Rivers Family Planning building in Rolla, a Title X health center that closed on Friday. The location will provide birth control, emergency contraception and other preventative care, Rodriguez said.

Missouri’s 2019 abortion ban bars the procedure in nearly all cases except for a medical emergency and does not include exceptions for rape and incest.

Abortion rights activists and doctors have criticized the law as being too vague and say it will force women to carry unsafe pregnancies or travel out of state to get the procedure. They also argue it puts an unnecessary strain on doctors who have to perform an abortion to save a woman’s life.

Since Missouri’s ban, Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in Fairview Heights, Illinois — just across the border with Missouri — has seen the number of patients traveling from outside the state jump by more than 340%, Rodriguez said. The location has also seen wait times skyrocket from four days to two and a half weeks, she said.

“Over the past 100 days, I’ve cared for people from across the country who traveled to southern Illinois for abortion care,” said Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

“These patients are navigating a politically designed obstacle course to access abortion and other basic health care.”

Demand for abortion is so high in Kansas that Planned Parenthood Great Plains can only see 10% to 15% of patients requesting appointments, officials told The Star late last month. Planned Parenthood runs three of the five health centers that provide abortion services in Kansas.

Anamarie Rebori-Simmons, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, in a statement touted the organization’s new health center in Kansas City but did not say whether Planned Parenthood plans to open a new mobile center in Kansas.

“In this moment, where people across this region of the country have fewer rights than their neighbors, we are being very thoughtful about our next steps in meeting patient needs,” the statement said. “Whether that’s opening another center or increasing appointment access at our current facilities, the most important thing is that we are efficiently seeing patients with the expert care they have come to expect.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, contrasted the abortion rights laws in Illinois with those in Missouri. She said Missouri treats women like second-class citizens.

“Could it be any clearer that women have rights and exist as full citizens in the state of Illinois while here on our side of the river we continue to treat women and all marginalized communities as second class citizens?” Quade said in a statement. “I’m grateful our neighboring states are taking steps to protect their people.”

State Rep. Ashley Aune, a Kansas City Democrat, said that women in Missouri have had to travel out of state for abortion care for years before the ban took place.

“20 years of a Republican majority and constant attacks on our reproductive freedom have resulted in fewer abortion providers in our state and more women crossing state lines to receive care,” she said in a statement. “Thank God for the compassion and creative problem solving of organizations like Planned Parenthood—but shame on Missouri Republicans for putting our women in this position.”

But Monday’s announcement also sparked outrage from some anti-abortion activists.

“This is a desperate move from those that profit from women in crisis,” state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, an Arnold Republican and ardent anti-abortion advocate. “I want every woman in Missouri who is considering abortion to know that Missouri stands ready to help her and her baby.”

Sam Lee, a Jefferson City-based anti-abortion lobbyist, criticized Planned Parenthood in a statement and claimed medication abortions put women at risk of adverse reactions.

“It is reckless for Planned Parenthood to hand out abortion pills like candy just across the border, since many patients — including minor girls — will end up in hospital emergency rooms in Missouri,” the statement said.

In response, Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, vice president of strategy and communications for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in a statement that Lee was using data for very rare complications. She linked to a brief from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research program based at the University of California San Francisco, that found that serious adverse events occur in less than one-third of 1% of medication abortions.

“If anti-abortion operatives were truly concerned with the health and well-being of Missourians, they’d fight to expand access to health care and in fact, celebrate Planned Parenthood’s first health center in rural Missouri,” the statement said. “What’s truly reckless is the abortion ban in Missouri, which has led to countless providers turning away pregnant people in need of care. Planned Parenthood is proud to bridge gaps politicians have created in the health care system. We’re not backing down.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, both Republicans who signed documents triggering the state’s abortion ban in June, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.